As it drags into its second year, Yemen’s increasingly vicious civil war continues to take its toll on civilians. There is immense pressure on a healthcare system that was weak before the conflict started, and access to humanitarian assistance is severely restricted.
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) took over the management of the Emergency Room in Al Thawara Referral Hospital in Ibb in February 2016. Nursing Activity Manager, Suzel Wiegert shares stories from the department, which sees up to 800 people each week from Ibb and nearby front lines.
“When MSF started supporting the 31-bed Emergency Room, there was no triage and no record of how many patients were being treated each day. We worked hard to organise the department and now I can tell you, the staff sees from 600 to 800 patients each week, 15 to 20 per cent of them for violent trauma related injuries.
Ibb and its surrounds is the most populated area of Yemen. With many of the local hospitals not functioning due to the conflict, around two million people rely on Al Thawara Referral Hospital – a heavy burden. It is about an hour’s drive from the front line in Taiz, so we were seeing a lot of war wounded and internally displaced people (the UNHCR reported that by December 2015, more than 2.5 million Yemenis had fled their homes).
I clearly remember a mother and her two teenage children from Taiz. The girl had a gunshot wound in her leg and her brother had one in his shoulder. They had arrived during the night and were sitting quietly on a bed waiting to be treated.
"The girl had a gunshot wound in her leg and her brother had one in his shoulder"
I have found Yemenis to be incredibly resilient, beautiful, friendly people. Our driver and guards would often invite us to lunch to meet their families and they couldn’t understand why we couldn’t go (our level of security was such that we could only travel from our house to the hospital and back). The situation is bitterly unfair. It’s not the Yemeni people’s war – it is not bringing about anything for them – but they are the ones suffering.
Another day stands out in my mind. There was an accidental gas bottle explosion in the market in Ibb and five badly burnt patients were brought into our Emergency Room. As we began treating them there was a security incident at the hospital and we were forced to retreat to a safe room. We weren’t allowed to return to the hospital for several days. Leaving them in that room was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do but fortunately we were able to organise their transfer to the nearest Ministry of Health burns unit where they were treated.
I was in Ibb when it was bombed, and when medical facilities were being hit across Yemen. The bombing of hospitals evokes strong feelings. People were questioning “Does international humanitarian law even exist anymore? Are there absolutely no rules?” In addition to the tragedy of people being killed during the attacks, they also deprive huge numbers of people of basic medical care. You think about your hospital being a potential target. You think about the bombs but they don’t stop you going to work.”
People were questioning “Does international humanitarian law even exist anymore? Are there absolutely no rules?”
A total of 2,102 MSF staff are currently working in Yemen – 97 international staff and 2,005 Yemeni staff – making it among MSF´s largest missions in terms of personnel.
*On 10 January 2016, the MSF-supported Shiara hospital in Razeh, Saada Province, near the border with Saudi Arabia, was hit by a projectile killing six and injuring seven. This follows two other such incidents against MSF health facilities in Yemen: one in Haydan, Saada province on 26 October 2015, and another on an MSF tented clinic in Houban, Taiz governorate, on 2 December 2015. MSF has called for an independent investigation into the Razeh incident by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission.